It’s Money That Matters
When was the last time you watched a fast food commercial on TV – you know, 99 cent cheeseburgers … limited time only … offer good everywhere but Alaska and Hawaii? Ever wonder why the fine print doesn’t include Vail? Perhaps it’s assumed that the cost of everything is higher here. No big surprise to anyone who’s been in the valley for more than a week. From the cost of real estate to groceries to gym socks, we exceed national averages by massive margins. With jobs outnumbering workers, there is no shortage of employment in the valley. The question is, can a local worker make enough to cover the cost of living?
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment listed the Median Family Income for Eagle County at $41,183, while a study conducted by Adela Flores of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute over the past year found that the total annual expenses for a two parent family in Eagle County works out to a whopping $46,984. Facing a statistic like that, you might wonder how the average Eagle County family keeps body and soul together.
Flores’ study found that the monthly cost of housing for a single adult in Eagle County is $559, or 39 percent of the average monthly income. The cost rises to $746 for a double income family with two children, or 28 percent of their monthly income. The Vail Board of Realtors lists the average sales price for a single family unit at around $600,000, up from $450,682 in 1996. While the increase in real estate prices is good news for investors, an increase in property value also means an increase in taxation, and up goes the cost of living for homeowners.
Anyone moving to Vail in search of income has little trouble finding work. A glance through the classifieds on any given day of the year reveals a wide spectrum of job opportunities from the menial to the highly skilled. According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, our average wage for the top five job categories in our county ranges between $20,285 and $38,398. Flores’ study calculates the average income of a single earner in a two parent family at $31,622. For this same single-income parent, the monthly cost of food is $503, transportation $221, healthcare $420, taxes $303, and miscellaneous costs averaging out at $443 per month.
What does this mean for a family aspiring to buy a home in the Vail area? The RST Associates/Colorado Department of Local Affairs, Division of Housing says that it takes 5.12 jobs paying $15 and hour to pay for an average price single family home in Eagle County. Daycare, anyone?
Darell Wegert of Minturn says keeping the balance between income and cost of living for local workers is a constant battle.
“There are plenty of people eager to move to a small mountain town and be a fire chief,” says Wegert. “Problem is, they can’t find housing they can afford.”
Minturn rents, he says, are comparable to those in Vail and Avon, while the annual wages are about 15 percent lower. To help ease the imbalance, Minturn has followed Vail’s example by constructing this year on a handful of employee housing units. Just a stop gap, says Wegert, providing new local government workers with a roof over their head while they get their feet under them.
According to Wegert, the local inflation rate hovers around 2 to 3 percent annually. Minturn officials try to increase government wages by 4 to 5 percent annually to keep up. Trying to keep taxes to a minimum is another
ongoing battle for the town council; a juggling act between keeping the town maintained at an acceptable standard and making it possible for residents to keep paying their bills.
And how does his own family of five keep the cost of living down? It’s a question, he says, of leaning toward “free” activities such as snowshoeing and hiking in place of costly pursuits such as movies, concerts or theater.
Creative solutions abound. Why not rent out that coat closet as a lockoff? Who says you can’t still wait tables on the side after the age of 35? Can there really be too many dog walkers in one town? Many a local has weighed the cost of car maintenance against the tips earned by delivering Domino’s pizzas when the ski day is over.
Steadfast locals repeat like a mantra, “It’s a lifestyle choice.” Two jobs doesn’t seem such a high price to pay for the opportunity to ski 150 days out a year. Put the baby in a backpack while you ski, and you can cut down on those hefty daycare costs. Tack on a couple more jobs, and someday you might even be able to afford a house. Just look at it this way, the money you save on those movies you don’t have time to see can go toward your mortgage payment.